The room Marius found himself in was a swaying blur of emerald, mahogany and shades of charcoal.
He struggled to lift his heavy lolling head, the aperture through his shuttering eyelids fading in and out. Unfocused, his bulk slumped, nestled deep inside the creamy upholstered French wingback.
The chair swallowed him whole.
Marius was trapped by his Sisyphean efforts to escape. The soporifics – whatever they were, whoever administered them, however they found their way into his bloodstream – it didn’t matter.
Unconsciousness loomed triumphant over Marius.
He did not know how long he was gone for.
In between it all, through moments of dulled senses and pitch black, ghostly murmuring voices haunted him. A man? Two of them? A doctor? His captor? His savior? His sister’s murderer?
It wasn’t until he heard the solemn, steady timpani of a funeral march crackling from the nearby gramophone that Marius was of utmost certitude he had surfaced fully from his forced slumber.
A sharp, smouldering scent of snowbells and myrrh wafted into his nostrils from the hung thurible in the middle of the room.
Everything bristled into focus.
A firing squad of Corinthian pilasters accented with cerulean satin drapes lined the wall across from Marius. An ochre cabriole with the legs of a lioness laid beneath, as if ready to pounce. The fiery maw of the hearth behind him roared and snapped and popped. A coven of candelabras circled the room, stalking it, choking it.
A harpsichord. An ursus arctos rug. A worn tapestry.
The room was perverse with hunger for carnage.
And then the measured strain of a solo Contrabass playing the melody of Bruder Martin in a minor key sent Marius off-kilter into an upside-down world again.
“Do you like Mahler?” Dragos asked quietly. He sat in a Sheraton Parlor chair in front of Marius, leaning forward. His head resting in his left palm, his elbow dug into his leather thighs.
“This piece, ‘The Titan’, his first… truly, indubitably… an unequivocal, unmatched masterpiece.”
Marius’s mouth was paper dry. He attempted to speak, but soon realized, while he was fully alert, he was paralyzed by an unknown force.
What has he done to me?
“Some may argue that ‘Resurrection’ symphony in C-minor is far superior, or his sixth, ‘Tragische’… and philistines, oh the great teeming mass of them… they can’t help but succumb to the grandiosity of his eighth, the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’… so utterly, shamefully crass… and a name, by the way, which he ardently disavows…
“But for me?” Dragos feigned a faux pause for Marius, “The ‘Titan’ captures humanity at its most absurd and hopeful. Would you like to know why?”
Marius starred into the limpid ruby irises of Dragos Anhelescu as he persisted in his pontification.
You murdered my sister, you fucking asshole. I will kill you.
Dragos stood up, his fuliginous cloak furling, and began pacing the room. But all the while an eye obliquely set on Marius.
“Hold on, wait for it,” he paused with a finger to his lips. “Ah. We just missed it. It’ll come back…”
Dragos stared off to the side, and then with arched eyebrows, exclaimed, “And there it is! Do you hear that? The oboe playing counterpoint. I like to think of it as a little hare hopping happily in front of the procession. Its sweet beating heart brimming with incalculable joy.
“You see, Mahler was inspired by ‘Des Jägers Leichenbegängnis’, a picture found in German children books. And in this delightful woodcut, it is not the hunter’s family carrying his body in the funeral procession, but animals!
“Animals! A bear, foxes, hares, a wolf, cranes and partridges, song-birds. Music-making cats! Toads, deer, stags! They are the ones accompanying the hunter to his final resting place! They are celebrating the death of the Hunter!”
Dragos stopped, turned and towered menacingly over Marius, like a disapproving father staring down a naughty child.
“Do you see how droll this is? The prey making merry over the predator’s death? The servant dancing on the master’s grave? The cattle foolishly rejoicing a life without farmers and butchers?
“And yet, have they done anything to warrant or earn such gaiety? Absolutely not. But they can have their tiny delusions. I am a lenient, forgiving and generous master.”
Dragos’s pale, unblemished face were inches from Marius now. Marius’s quickening breath drew in the iron-taste of open sores, rotting flesh and unwashed hair.
“You see, with these animals, no harm was done. After the funeral, they will return to their pathetic lives as food for us, the farmers, the hunters, the masters. Do you see? The animals know their place and act accordingly.”
Marius spied the shimmering cabochon chalcedony set inside Dragos’s gold scalloped broach. A gift from the Lupescu family. Dragos ate their two daughters a week later.
“They don’t rise up. They have no illusions of open rebellion. They accept their lot.”
“But you, Marius,” Dragos continued. “Marius, Marius, Marius…”
Dragos’s voice trailed off into a whisper as he sauntered towards his cherry wood hutch. The frosted-glass doors swung gently open independently, as if like a flower blooming in the dewy morning mist.
He reached in and retrieved a decanter filled with thick red liquid, and poured a half-glass into a crystal goblet.
“An aperitif, if you will,” explained Dragos. “I do enjoy one prior to a meal.”
He tilted the chalice at eye level, the reflected candlelight igniting a kaleidoscope of colors, as he considered the color of the drink. He swirled it, painting the glass, watching its slow and stubborn viscosity recede.
“You know,” Dragos said, as he sniffed deeply and sighed with paroxysmal pleasure, “she had this prelapsarian glow about her. It was… divine. And…. delicious in a way I’ve never experienced before.”
He drew in an elongated draft, the gulp of his Adam’s apple pulsing rhythmically. “Mmmmm…”
When he had finished, he glanced back at Marius again, drunk, a single stream of Ioana’s blood dribbling down his chin. “You wouldn’t have another would you? A sister you’ve hidden away somewhere? Sent off to another country?” ☣